NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big Six: Questions Answered After the 2016 Duck Commander 500

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Sometimes taking a gamble is a team’s only hope of winning a race, but it’s certainly no guarantee.  When the No. 6 team kept Trevor Bayne off sequence to gain track position, it resulted in Bayne leading 12 laps—the first laps he’s led since May of 2014.  That was a shot in the arm for Bayne and the team, and had there been a well-timed caution (and there very nearly was), Bayne would have wound up on sequence with the leaders and who knows what might have happened if he had?

Sometimes it takes a bold move for a team to realize what they’re capable of, and this one should give the team confidence going forward.  They tried something nobody else did in an effort to win, and that in itself is something to be proud of.

What… is the takeaway from this race?

What is it about night racing that makes it popular with so many fans?  The cars do look great under the lights, but the racing?  It’s generally not as good as a day race would be on the same track.  The cooler temperatures generally mean more grip, and more grip means the cars are more aerodynamically dependent, and therefore more likely to get strung out looking for clean air.

Saturday’s race was no exception—the late hour almost certainly contributed to Kyle Busch running away and hiding at the end.  While the new aero package is certainly still working (it wasn’t a bad race, just not as good as some of the others this year so far), the cool temperatures made passing more difficult, and teams were frustrated throughout the race as a result. Saturday night specials are flashy for sure…but Sunday afternoon races usually have more substance.

The other issue with night races is that rain delays are a significant headache, and that reared its head this week as well as the start was delayed for about two hours.  That meant a start at 8:30 local but 9:30 on the East Coast.  That means the race finishes well after midnight, and even on Saturday night, that’s pushing it for viewers on Eastern time to stay tuned in.  Fans turning off their TV’s before it’s over because they need to go to bed isn’t a good thing…but postponing a day isn’t always good for fans at the track.  Is there a solution?

Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Carl Edwards looked strong early, leading four times for 124 laps.  Then, on a mid-race restart, Edwards fell back through field and had to pit under green for a loose right front wheel.  Edwards rebounded to finish seventh, but wasn’t a contender late in the race. Then again, had it not been for the final caution, it’s unlikely that anyone had anything for Martin Truex, Jr., so Edwards was in good company throughout the night.

Jimmie Johnson survived apit road tangle early after Kevin Harvick pulled out in front of Kyle Busch, who was ahead of Johnson, causing a chain reaction.  Johnson recovered and looked like he was stalking the front of the pack.  He later lost several positions and the lead lap after getting caught on pit road as the caution flew. Johnson took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap, and climbed to fourth by the checkered flag.  After three straight Texas wins, his performance was hardly noteworthy- he never led a lap and lacked the spark that took him to Victory Lane at Atlanta and Fontana.

When… did it all go sideways?

First off, while it was an unpleasant moment for the No. 27 team of Paul Menard, kudos to NASCAR for throwing the penalty flag on a lap 128 pit stop where the team was seen altering the right side skirt in front of the rear wheel well—a move that gives the car more rear downforce, but that NASCAR has told teams is unacceptable.  On the other hand, the sanctioning body correctly let the No. 78 crew fix some damage from contact with the wall shortly afterward.  Good on them for differentiating the two situations and cracking down on teams for violating the rule.

Tires were certainly a topic of discussion Saturday.  Tire wear was again at the forefront, as it should be—tires not lasting for a fuel run and beyond has certainly contributed to the improved racing this season as tire management once again becomes a key strategy.  But the bigger story was the risk vs. reward of not using all 5 lugnuts—some teams didn’t even have five glued to their front wheels and were only concerned with getting three tight.  Four will hold the wheel on tightly.

Three will usually do the trick but can certainly cause issues, as Casey Mears discovered when his team only got three on a front wheel, which caused a major vibration though there was no failure.  Leaving the fifth nut off may save a tiny amount of time on pit road, but it leaves no room for error.  It’s self-policing in that teams who risk it face the possibility of a loose wheel and an extra pit stop to fix it, but is the safety aspect of having a wheel come loose and causing a crash too big a risk for NASCAR to take in letting teams put fewer than five nuts on the cars?

As for things really getting sideways, Texas featured a Big One that would have made Daytona proudAustin Dillon shut the door on a charging Denny Hamlin as the race neared the 300-lap mark, but the move got Dillon loose and sent him spinning through traffic, involving a total of 13 cars in the resulting pileup.  Dillon somehow came through still on the lead lap, only to receive a speeding penalty on pit road, but others were not so lucky. Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer had their night end early, and several others had significant damage.

Why… did Kyle Busch win the race?

He didn’t have the best car, but his team made the best call, taking tires on a late caution while Martin Truex, Jr., who was the class of the field, stayed out.  While there were only a few laps on Truex’s tires, it proved to be a few laps too many in a year where tires matter more than they have in a long time.  Busch was able to get the jump on Truex on the final restart and cruised to the win in clean air.  His fourth win in as many races was his weakest performance in that time frame, but he got the job done.

How… did the little guys do?

The three best:

Ty Dillon; Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing: Texas was tough on all the teams in this group, but Dillon showed some chops, gaining 10 spots throughout the race and showing how far this team has come in the short time since they aligned with Richard Childress Racing in the offseason.  Michael McDowell has also been impressive so far this season, and the team is getting better every week.  Dillon is relatively inexperienced in a Cup car, but he was able to drive through traffic late in the race to grab the top 20.

AJ Allmendinger; JTG Daugherty Racing: Texas was not indicative of how strong this team has been on the intermediates this year; despite being in the top 3 among the smaller teams, the team actually had one of their most difficult races of the season, struggling with handling all day and throwing some big adjustments at the car in hopes of making gains.  They did gain a few positions at the end, and easily stay at the top of the class in this group, sitting 15th in points—they could certainly make the Chase on points if they can regain the speed they had at Fontana.

Casey Mears; Germain Racing: The No. 13 team isn’t quite where they should be this year in terms of points or finishes, but they finished the weekend at Texas much better than they started it.  Mears was frustrated on the final run, but before that, the team made some positive gains and passed quite a few cars after a tough qualifying session.  This team is capable of running as well as the No. 47, but they haven’t quite taken that step yet.

All the rest:

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish / Notes +/- Points Position
95 Ty Dillon Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing Nexium 24HR Chevy 30th 20th
This team has improved greatly over 2015 but still have a ways to go—Dillon had a solid run and will also improve with seat time
+10 N/A
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Kroger / Busch’s Beans Chevy 23rd 22nd
Team was making big changes in attempt to improve handling-had a handle on it at other intermediates this year but had a hard time this weekend-not indicative of performance this season
+1 15th
-3
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 32nd 23rd
Fought handling all weekend; passed some cars but Mears and team were frustrated; reported throttle sticking midrace.  Team had stellar pit stops, gaining position in pits, but loose wheel on next-to-last stop
+9 26th
+2
38 Landon Cassill Front Row Motorsports MDS Transport Ford 33rd 25th
Made gains all night, moved up quietly to match career-best Texas finish after driving through the 13-car crash
+8 28th
+1
34 Chris Buescher Front Row Motorsports Love’s Travel Stops Ford 34th 28th
Buescher’s struggles have been a little surprising, especially on a night where the Roush Fenway cars are fast
+6 36th
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft Ford 7th 29th
Faded after a strong qualifying effort, but still a solid night for the rookie driver
-22 20th
-5
98 Cole Whitt Premium Motorsports Chevy 37th 30th
Whitt is a talented driver but team continues to be far behind in terms of equipment.  He’s finishing about where he should most weeks given the circumstances and grabbed a top 30 this week, perhaps a bit above his equipment
+7 37th
7 Regan Smith Tommy Baldwin Racing Fire Alarm Services Chevy 28th 31st
Qualified well among these teams; like most, complained of tight condition throughout the race; some damage in Austin Dillon crash
-3 29th
-2
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Pilot Flying J Chevy 35th 32nd
Caught in late race pileup triggered by Hamlin and Austin Dillon; had not been particularly strong before but was keeping the car clean
+3 35th
23 David Ragan BK Racing Dr. Pepper Toyota 31st 33rd
Ragan has been an asset to the team; both cars showing improvement every week–veteran presence was needed; this week was a rough one but hasn’t been the norm this year; also got some damage in late crash with Austin Dillon
-2 30th
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Cosmo Motors Toyota 29th 34th
Team working to loosen up the car in the first half of race; brushed the wall lap 184
-5 34th
32 Jeffery Earnhardt GO FAS Racing Can-Am Ford 38th 35th
Earnhardt did a credible job of communicating to the team during the race, and that’s key to improving performance.  He needs experience and seat time.  Good save after being popped in the rear by Kyle Larson with 83 to go
+3 38th
+1
55 Reed Sorenson Premium Motorsports Chevy 40th 36th
Struggled to maintain minimum speed early; was warned by NASCAR to pick it up; several teams voiced frustrations with Sorenson on the radio for being in the way
+4 42nd
15 Clint Bowyer HScott Motorsports Visine Chevy 36th 38th
Team was frustrated with need for track position and difficulty of passing; so far, any info sharing with Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t helped team. Collateral damage in Austin Dillon crash.
-2 32nd
30 Josh Wise The Motorsports Group CrawfestNB.com Chevy 39th 40th
Penalty for commitment line violation; team already struggling without it; spent multiple laps in the garage working on repairing damage; slapped the wall hard on lap 211 to end the night for the team—Wise was ok
-1 39th
-1

 

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3 Comments
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rg72

Said it before, will say it again. There should be 1 1/2 night races on the schedule-Bristol in August and the Coca Cola 600.
I turned it off about not long after the competition caution. I might have stuck with it 10 or 15 years ago. Looking at the 0.9 overnight rating, a lot of people didn’t turn it on in the first place.

Mike

The best way to fix the racing at Texas is to move one race back to Rockingham and one back to North Wilkesboro…

Tim S.

Funny how those places just weren’t big enough, and yet they have to yank out 50,000 seats at these utopian palaces of speed.

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